Review: Lumiere Tasting Bar

by Mrs. Zutterbug on October 5, 2007

In a city where a new restaurant seems to open every day, sometimes you can get caught up with always trying the “new” place that just opened. I know my head spins just thinking about it.

So for a birthday dinner with my girlfriends, we opted to try the Lumiere Tasting Bar – a hallmark restaurant on the Vancouver restaurant scene. This was my first time at Lumiere and I must admit, up until this point I was never eager to go. There were always too many mixed reviews. Some people felt the service was excessively snooty, and others didn’t feel the food was worth the price. And then, with the flurry of recent exits from the kitchen, who knew what would happen to the food?

But still. This is Lumiere, a restaurant called out as the best in Vancouver several years in a row. That’s got to mean something. And a recent review of the Tasting Bar in the Vancouver Courier reminded of this.

I really love food and restaurants, but my income does not support going out to a restaurant like Lumiere on a regular basis. And to ensure my friends (who are also aware of prices) would eat another meal out with me again, the full Lumiere restaurant was out as an option. So the tasting bar it was. And what a meal we had.

We arrived at 6pm on a Sunday and were greeted immediately by the friendly staff. They took us to a corner table, poured us some Antipodes sparkling water, and then we got to work studying the menu, which was small, but with a nice range of items and prices.

Our waiter (I wish I’d gotten his name – he was awesome!) suggested starting off by sharing the menus decouvertes, a seasonal sampling of 4 different seafood dishes. Ours included an ahi tuna tartare, a seared scallop with delicious mini crab beignets, a piece of arctic char with asparagus and a 25 year balsamic reduction, and perfectly cooked halibut with a basil foam.

All the dishes were fantastic (if I were to be super picky, the arctic char may have been a tad dry), but the ahi tuna tartare stood out. Incredibly fresh fish and a nice subtle vinaigrette. The flavours really exploded when you took a bite. Even one of my friends, who doesn’t like raw fish, loved this.

Next, between the four of us, we ordered several dishes:

Heirloom tomato salad w/ handmade bocconcini, Eleni olive oil, 25 year old balsamic
– I didn’t try this dish (expect for taking a swipe of the balsamic), but my friend reported it was delicious – especially the cheese, which melted in the mouth.

BBQ peking duck broth w/ pork & duck wontons, enoki mushrooms
– The waiter also brought three condiments to add to the broth: minced red thai chillies, lime wedges, and a mixture of minced lemongrass,ginger, and spring onion. I first took a sip of the broth without condiments – really flavourful. But then – and this always amazes me – I added in a dash of red chilli, a squeeze of lime, and lots of the lemongrass/ginger/onion mixture and it brought the broth to a totally different place. As a new food lover, I am still blown away at how a couple simple ingredients can make such a difference to flavour. The wontons were huge, tender, and delicate. I would go back solely to have this soup again.

Butternut Squash & Marscapone Ravioli w/ black truffle beurre blanc
– This is Rob Feenie’s signature dish, and I can see why. If you can make pasta with marscapone cheese AND a butter sauce taste “light”…well that’s pretty impressive. It’s hard to explain the taste of this dish, but order it, and make sure you eat the ravioli whole, don’t cut it in half. That’ll ruin everything.

Sake and Maple Syrup Baked Sablefish w/ braised shortrib meat, potato and soy-ginger froth
– This was the favourite dish of the night for my husband. He gave me one bite, but only because if was my birthday. Otherwise he said he would never share this dish. Perfectly cooked sablefish, that went really well with the shortrib. That really surprised us. We would have never thought sablefish would need a beef accompaniment, but this dish worked.

Butternut Squash Risotto
– This was probably the most “average” dish of then night. Good taste, but didn’t seem like anything special for us.

Macaroni & Cheese w/ four cheeses and double smoked Irish bacon
– I just had to order the mac & cheese. First the portion was HUGE. There is no way I could have finished it. The “macaroni” was actually cavatappi (corkscrew) noodles, smothered with a four cheese sauce (I’m guessing fontina gruyere, and 2 others) and topped with bread crumbs AND bacon. Oh my! All my friends loved this dish, especially my husband – he finished it for me! I actually found it too rich for my taste, but that’s just me.

Now, dessert! I suggested sharing a couple between the four of us, but everyone shot that down in favour of getting their own. Who was I to argue?

Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Bar w/ milk sorbet, candied rice crisps, praline emulsion
– This was my choice and it was awesome. Loved the rice crisps and the milk sorbet was light, sweet, and perfect with the bar.

Plum and Blackberry Pavlova w/ vanilla cream, lime & mint, fruit, plum caviar
– The vanilla cream was to-die-for. I didn’t get to taste the rest but I’ll assume it was good since it was gone within seconds!

Petits Fours
– A huge assortment of cookies and cakes.

Caraibe Chocolate Fondant w/ bluebery compote and a lemon, basil, and white chocolate ice cream
– The ice cream definitely made the dish. Really interesting flavour. Yum.

The table drank either the Seven Stones, Speaking Rock 2005 Pinot Noir or the Balthasar Ress, Hattenheimer Schutzenhaus Reisling Kabjnett 2005.

We enjoy wine, but admittedly don’t know much. So we were really happy with the recommendations from our waiter.

And finally, the service. I know many people who have had questionable service at Lumiere, but the staff was working the night we were there. They were attentive, accommodating, and they made us feel very welcome at the restaurant. Very little “snooty” factor, at least in the tasting bar.

I recommend everyone go to the tasting bar at least once. It makes Lumiere more accessible, and do-able for a special dinner. The bill for 4 came to $343 before tip. This may seem like a lot, but we were there for about 3.5 hours and I’ll remember the food. It was also still less than an omakase for 2 at Tojo’s (although I think my experience there was worth every penny).

Plus, I am a big believer you can scale what you spend with a menu like this. I would happily walk in again, sit at the bar and have a glass of wine with the Peking duck broth for dinner.

So try the Lumiere Tasting Bar. Then, go back again to try all the awesome new restaurants popping up. Lumiere will always be there when you need it. The restaurant and its food aren’t going anywhere. But you need to have the food to understand why.

Lumiere Tasting Bar, 2551 W. Broadway (inside Lumiere, next to Feenie’s), 604-739-8185

Summary:
Food: 4.5 out of 5
Service: 4.5 out of 5
Price: $$$, but worth it every once in a while

Lumière on Urbanspoon

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